Don’t Do Another Burpee EVER AGAIN
… until you know how to execute them correctly!
In this article, I’ll cover:
- how to assess yourself or your clients for burpees
- how to name them correctly
- how to progress
- burpee variations
- common burpee mistakes
- and how most importantly—how to correctly perform a burpee and avoid injury
Without further ado…
If you’re staying fit you will have heard of the Burpee, and more than likely have suffered from its torturous effects on your cardiovascular endurance! Ever wondered who invented this hellish exercise or if your trainer truly knows what torture you’re being put through?
You probably even got questions like “Why do they call it a Burpee?” and “Who came up with the Burpee?”, let’s clear those two up with the simple answer; Royal Huddleston Burpee, yes people, it’s that simple, the last name of the inventor was Burpee.
YES the Burpee can be extremely bad for you
YES not everyone should be doing Burpees
YES there are requirements one should meet before doing them
Behold The CrossFit Burpee
CrossFitter, you know I love you, but … above is not the ‘Burpee’ that’s the ‘CrossFit Burpee’. Stay with me now, I know you might already be lost and confused because you’re thinking I’m attacking your baby, don’t, this is about the original version of the burpee as demonstrated in the video below.
The POOR Burpee is HATED due to Misinformation
The Burpee is hated by many, bastardized by plenty, but the exercise itself or its inventor Royal H. Burpee are not to blame. Royal H. Burpee did not invent the Burpee to be performed in high reps or at high intensity, in fact, the Burpee came to life for a quick and simple way to assess fitness, and to be performed at low reps, four reps only to be exact. Even more interesting is that the REAL Burpee is probably not what you’re doing in your CrossFit classes. Imagine that! Allow me to open up a whole new world for you, the ‘real’ Burpee is only a 4 count Burpee performed as following:
- Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you
- Jump feet back into plank position
- Jump feet forward
- Return to standing
I can already hear you think “that’s not a real Burpee! where is the push-up?” or “where is the jump?”, easy there cowboy, you’re thinking about the five or six count Burpee, more commonly known as Push-up Burpee, Jumping Burpee, and Military Burpee. This is why I get so anal about exercise naming.
“Everybody knows how to do Burpees!”
The negativity surrounding the Burpee is mostly due to misinformation and trainers not doing their research properly, not using common sense, or not implementing assessments where they should.
Not everyone knows how to do a Burpee correctly
“Squat, kick the legs out and in, stand up and jump”
is probably how most people get their instructions for their first Burpee, but guess what? It’s not that simple, there is much more to it, I can write two whole A4’s on how to execute the Burpee correctly and what the common mistakes are.
“But the inventor itself said the Burpee is no good when performed at high reps?“
Yes, he did say that he believed high reps of the movement could be bad for the knees or dangerous to the back, especially for anyone who lacked core strength, and I agree with him wholeheartedly, assuming that you’re doing the burpee as it was designed.
Burpees are Bad!
YES I have done 400 Burpees in under 1 hour
YES I have asked my clients to do 300 or more Burpees
YES I will continue to use Burpees in my workouts
… but I will always use common sense, asses my clients prior, continue assessing during the session, communicate with my clients, and most importantly, make sure they understand how to perform the Burpee correctly and know when to stop (even when not reaching the target set out).
Assessment and Communication
My number one rule before anyone gets to do a Burpee is Assessment and Communication. Assessing the clients CORE STRENGTH, i.e. is the client able to hold the plank for at least 30 seconds? At 30 seconds the client should be able to slowly perform a couple of Burpees, 60 seconds or over and in great shape? The client should be able to pump out high reps at high intensity.
Communication comes into play by talking to your client before attempting anything, asking about their history, injuries and overall health, explaining the Burpee, asking if they understand the explanations and movement just demonstrated, asking if it hurts or is uncomfortable when they perform it correctly? And above all, telling them that at no stage should they ever continue if the lower-back, knees, or any other part of their body starts to niggle or hurt, stop before it hurts, rest or stop completely, no matter what’s at stake, well… explain that their health is at stake!
Yes, the 4 count instructions following are great for visualization of the exercise, but nothing else.
1. Squat down and place both hands on the floor in front of you
2. Jump feet back into plank position
3. Jump feet forward
4. Return to standing
For proper instructions, one needs to talk about the engagement of the lats (Latissimi dorsi), hand placement, alignment of the spine, head position, core engagement, knee lockout, pressure prevention on the lower back and knees. You should provide little tips that can prevent pressure and increase performance like:
- hands coming off the ground before the feet come on the ground
- kicking the legs back before the hands come on the ground
- proper hand placement
- proper feet placement
- squat don’t bend over
- don’t fold your legs under you
- hands on the inside of the leg and not on the outside
- chest engaged
- lats engagement for safe shoulders
- jumping through the heels
- bumping the hips in the air before going out or in
- elbow lock-out (depending on variation)
- knee lock-out in plank position
- squeeze the glutes in plank position
has your trainer ever called out any of these cues?
Also important to know is that the movement and tips change depending on the speed you perform the Burpee at. If you’re performing them at top speed you’ll want to keep the elbows soft upon landing but there is more to it than just that.
Technique is number one to prevent all kind of issues, Core Strength comes second to avoid lower-back issues, and leg strength comes third to prevent knee issues.
What Areas Are Affected When Done Wrong?
Let’s dive into a bit more details on why Burpees, when done incorrectly, can be bad for you and what areas they affect. The knees, lower back, and shoulders are the three main areas people generally will experience issues.
The main reason the knees can be affected is due to the uncomfortable/incorrect position which puts a lot of stress on the knees, the position I’m talking about is demonstrated in the photo where the legs are folded underneath. The same applies to the lower back, the explosive movement of kicking the legs back under the body places a lot of stress on the lower back, especially when performed in high reps at high intensity. The shoulders can take a pounding when lowering oneself explosively or even when slowly coming into a plank position and potentially allowing the shoulders to come out of their sockets.
The following video is posted on Wikipedia as an example to millions of people on how to perform a Burpee, I say: HOW NOT TO PERFORM A BURPEE
Now, it’s not the fault of the person demonstrating, as I’m sure that this is how Royal H. Burpee intended the Burpee to be performed, but maybe he made a mistake because with a few simple adjustments the exercise could have been so much safer on the body.
Can It Be Done Correctly?
Yes, the Burpee can be done without placing too much stress on the areas discussed, it’s all to do with correct and different placement of the hands and feet than you’ve been taught. I will explain exactly the adjustments you need to make to prevent some of the issues we’ve covered above. I’ll cover some beginner variations and also the safe variation.
Regress the Burpee to its original state and you already have a much simpler version, turn the kicking back of the legs into stepping and you have an even tamer version, add elevation for the hands like an old tyre or platform and you have the safest and easiest variation of the Burpee.
The number one adjustment you should make is the squat stance, that means that the feet are not close together as the person demonstrates in the video above. Your feet should be just placed outside hip width, come into a deep squat and place your hands on the ground. Think of a frog position. Then bump your hips up into the air quickly by pressing the feet into the ground, and at the same time you kick your legs out and into a plank position. The reason for the hip raise is to make space for the legs to come through easily without putting excessive pressure on the lumbar area. Most people will also end up in a wide plank at the feet, but once you get used to this you will start to bring your feet closer together during the kick-out.
Coming back up is almost the same process as going out, you need to think about bringing the hips up first, no matter how small that movement is, and you follow through by pulling the legs in, and preferably into the same position as you started out with. Not folded under the body. If you can, you should aim to pull the hands off the ground before the feet land flat. It’s also important to try and land flat with the feet. If you’re doing jump burpees, follow up with a jump by pushing the heels into the ground, come off the ground and land on the balls of the feet.
Some other more complex Burpee variations:
- Burpee Box Jump
- Burpee Pull Up
- Burpee One Leg
- Burpee One Arm
- Burpee Long Jump
- Burpee 8-count Body Builder
- Burpee Military 8-count Body Builder
- Burpee Lateral Jump
- Burpee Tuck Jump
- Burpee Star Jump
- Burpee Rolling Squat
- Burpee Hindu Push-up
- Burpee Jump Over
- Burpee Push-up and Pull-up
Common Burpee Mistakes
- Hands placed too far apart
- Hands placed too far away
- Core not active and tight
- Feet too wide apart
- Knees soft
- Hips high in the air
- Hips too low
Difference between sprawl, burpee and CrossFit burpee
I can already hear the comments from all the keyboard warriors “but I saw you do an incorrect Burpee!”, yes, I admit, I know how to perform a good Burpee, and I probably have performed some very sloppy Burpees in some video somewhere.
Look, just because you know the rules doesn’t mean you never break them. Furthermore, perfect Burpees each and every time is impossible, but as Yoda would say “try thy must”.
As always, your thoughts and ramblings below or on this Facebook post right here.